Palestinians and Israelis Locked in Identity Struggle

Article Summary
Israel should reconsider its response to Palestinian declarations on the right of return, as the Israeli response has implications for Israeli identity, writes Lilach Sigan.

They say that when a person asks himself who he really is — it’s best that he bases his answer on his qualifications and his aspirations. The same holds true for a country. Thus, Abu Mazen’s words in the United Nations were much sadder than what has been called in Israel a “hostile speech.” What Abu Mazen is afraid to understand, is that the Palestinian nation will eventually have to discover an identity that is built on something other than animosity to Israel. Ostensibly, he really, really wants a “birth certificate for the Palestine state,” but what is this country [the Palestine state], except that it is against everything Israel does? What are its customs? What characterizes it, or its residents? What is its legacy, on which it will raise its children?

It is doubtful whether Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] or any Palestinian leader ever lingered over this simple question, and doubtful whether there are many Palestinians who could give it an answer. Unfortunately, an identity as perpetual refugees does not distinguish a nation because refugees exist all over the world. Beyond that, anything born out of hatred or the desire for revenge, will be eternally steeped in poison. It will not grow out of the joy of creation.

This tragic path has always characterized Palestinian leadership, and it does not really matter who stands at its head. Apparently, competition [among the leaders] is based on who can cause Israel more damage, or who can most accurately express the Palestinian identity based on negation. The Hamas chose armament and killing in order to actualize this credo, while Abu Mazen chose the path of vilification. But this path harms the Palestinian nation more than it harms Israel.

So long as it will be possible to come with impossible demands such as “the right of return” for millions of Palestinians, not in the new [Palestinian] state but in the Israeli territory, Abu Mazen will continue to do so. So long as it will be possible to declaim that construction in the territories is the only obstacle to peace, while simultaneously finding another excuse when construction is frozen for ten months and continuing to refuse to negotiate — we can count on Abu Mazen to continue this path.

The very declaration of building is viewed as self-justification

But this intransigence represents a difficult problem: the absence of a real path. If Abu Mazen is deprived of enmity toward Israel, what will be left of his national identity? Even the date chosen for the United Nations vote was not a random choice [In 1947, Nov. 29 was voted by the UN the historic Palestine Partition Plan.]

It seems that any Palestinian achievement must have an element of defiance toward Israel, or it becomes worthless in the eyes of their leaders.

Nevertheless, the bigger problem is the way that Israel responds to this reality. The identity- problem of the Palestinian nation is a sad thing, but it is even sadder that we act foolishly [in response]. If we are supposed to possess a sophisticated, innovative identity, then it’s a little hard to understand why we fall into the same trap time after time: A proclamation about the construction of thousands of apartments in the settlements as a response to the proceedings in the United Nations, plays directly into the hands of Abu Mazen and Co.

First, if we believe that it is our right, why announce it at all? After all, Israel does not make announcements about other construction projects it initiates, so the very proclamation itself is perceived as self-justification. Second, we have only partly rehabilitated our relations with the Americans very recently, and again we are embarrassing them. Third, Israel only strengthens Abu Mazen’s excuses by relating to construction as a “punishment” for their United Nations bid. Israel strengthens the view that construction in the settlements is the only obstacle to peace, while the biggest obstacle is precisely the right of return. No matter how you look at this reaction, it weakens us. It is simply not wise.

Mainly because it testifies to the fact that we have adopted behavior that allows the Palestinians to define the playing field, where we only react to distorted rules that were set by others. In the future, I would wish the Palestinians a leadership with more of a backbone, but until then [I ask our Israeli leaders] — is this the way a country with a clear identity should respond?

Found in: peace, palestine, israel, identity

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